Online Review: Book

Trade Relations in the Eastern Mediterranean from the Late Hellenistic Period to Late Antiquity: The Ceramic Evidence

Kristina W. Jacobsen


Edited by Maria Berg Briese and Leif Erik Vaag (Halicarnassian Studies 3). Pp. 256, figs. 177, pls. 3, tables 2. University Press of Southern Denmark, Odense 2005. $35. ISBN 87-7838-958-5 (cloth).

The volume contains the papers of an international seminar for young scholars in classical archaeology held almost a decade ago. The subject of the seminar was the investigation of trade mechanism through pottery distribution in the eastern Mediterranean. The aim was to create an environment for young scholars to present their work to one another and to senior researchers within the same field. The senior researchers were invited to discuss more general themes. The 18 contributions are a fairly even distribution of both. The ceramic groups presented are mainly tablewares (fine wares) and transport amphoras, but a few articles deal with cooking wares.

The eclecticism evident in this volume is generated by the all-encompassing character of the subject. However, the majority of articles fall within two groups: (1) introducing new assemblages (Hayes, Abadie-Reynal, Kögler, Zabehlicky-Scheffennegger and Schneider, Malamidou, Hjohlman, Forster, Albrecht, Kilcher-Martin, Berg Briese); and (2) presenting new research on recognized or new pottery types (Lund, Malfitana, Vaag, Williams, Demesticha, Georgopoulou). Two articles break from this pattern. One suggests new possibilities for research into the organization of pottery production (Poblome, Brulet). The other, the final paper, presents an overview of the ceramic evidence for Roman trade with India (Tomber). This is also one of three contributions that focus on areas outside the eastern Mediterranean (also Albrecht, Kilcher-Martin). Although most of the articles in the first group take a site-based view, several place the site within a larger regional and/or economic framework (Abadie-Reynal, Kögler, Lund, Hjohlman). Overlapping the two groups, four studies deal with the importance of trade patterns for defining regional fabrics and provenance (Kögler, Vaag, Williams, Georgopoulou, Berg Briese).

Seven years passed between the seminar and the publication in 2005, for which the editors apologize in the introduction. However, the volume is by no means outdated in terms of references or of content. From several articles it is clear that the authors were invited to update their pieces in 2002, and some of them have been updated again in 2004. When dealing with the work of younger scholars, one would expect that seven years between study and publication is a long time. Still, a quick search in Dyabola shows that only one of the then–Ph.D. students (including the editors of the volume) has published a more extensive account of her research (Hjohlman). This illustrates two problems in pottery studies: the amount of unstudied material is enormous, and pottery groups are all too often given to Ph.D. students. Unfortunately, pottery publications are expensive and difficult to prepare; much is therefore never published (except for brief introductions to the data in acts of seminars such as the present one).

In addition, increasingly close contact with the earth sciences has separated pottery specialists from mainstream classical archaeology, and articles have become more and more specialized as they deal ever more with fabrics and fabric-related problems. Consequently, pottery articles are highly infrequent in the easily accessible, major, peer-reviewed journals. Instead, pottery specialists meet at pottery seminars and correspond in dispersed seminar acts. Many of the authors in the present volume are members of the Rei Cretariae Romanae Fautores, a society specializing in the field of Roman pottery. With the number of scholarly books on sale, few libraries can afford to buy all these publications. As Hayes comments in the first paper in this volume, a major problem for students of pottery is the polyglot, dispersed, and inaccessible literature (13).

Pottery articles are consulted by nonspecialists for the purpose of dating material, but mostly they fail to raise the interest of people outside the field. This is a weakness shared by most pottery publications, including the present volume. It includes several high-quality papers that will be appreciated by pottery specialists, old-timers, and newcomers. Two of these studies concern two of the widest-spread pottery types in the eastern Mediterranean during the Late Roman period: Phocaean Red Slip Ware (Vaag) and LR1 amphoras (Williams), on which major synthetic publications have yet to appear. Both of them focus on the recognition of regional fabrics, yet the article by Hayes highlights the fact that traditional pottery studies of chronology and typology are far from exhausted.

However, the volume also includes several papers with an appeal beyond the specialist’s interest. I should like to make special mention of the studies by Abadie-Reynal, Demesticha, and Kilcher-Martin. The first two attempt to draw historical conclusions based on pottery distribution. Abadie-Reynal suggests that romanization of culinary habits at Argos came not by direct contact with Italy but in the second century C.E. via pottery from western Anatolia. Demesticha suggests a connection between the new production of Aegean-style transport amphoras in Cyprus and the reorganization of the provinces under Justinian I, which places Cyprus in the same administrative unit as the Aegean islands. Kilcher-Martin’s paper gives voice to the many methodological questions concerning the comparative analysis of archaeological assemblages, especially their depositional history.

Trade Relations in the Eastern Mediterranean is a handsome, well-illustrated volume with relatively few editorial problems, a current bibliography, and many interesting suggestions as to how careful studies of pottery distributions can be used to increase our understanding of trade in the Graeco-Roman world. No less important, for specialists and excavators looking for up-to-date typologies, are the chronologies and macroscopic descriptions of common fabrics—the volume has much to offer.

Kristina W. Jacobsen
Homerton College
Hills Road
Cambridge CB2 8PH
United Kingdom

Book Review of Trade Relations in the Eastern Mediterranean from the Late Hellenistic Period to Late Antiquity, edited by Maria Berg Briese and Leif Erik Vaag

Reviewed by Kristina W. Jacobsen

American Journal of Archaeology Volume 111, Number 2 (April 2007)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1112.Jacobsen

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